Research Interest and Expertise:
Plant genetics, genomics, and germplasm enhancement.
Dr. McGrath is the Research Geneticist (Plants) for USDA-ARS NP 301 (Plant Genetic Resources, Genomics and Genetic Improvement) CRIS Project entitled “Genetic Dissection of Traits for Sugar Beet Improvement” in the Sugarbeet and Bean Research Unit, East Lansing, Michigan. Research is to develop enhanced sugar beet germplasm and to discover genes of agronomic importance, and to characterize fungal pathogens and diseases limiting sugar production in the Great Lakes growing region. We generate and integrate basic genetic knowledge, methods, and biological resources for efficient, effective breeding and selection for desired characteristics; discover genetic control, linkage relationships, and specific genes contributing to desired agronomic, morphological, biochemical, and physiological characters; and use genomics to explore development of the beet root, particularly of early season development.
Current research goals are to develop a genomic framework and biological toolkit for sugar beet, which include assembling and annotating the beet genome sequence, specifically that of the germplasm ‘C869’ which is the common seed parent of our Recombinant Inbred (RI) populations, as well as releasing these RI populations with high-density molecular maps.
Expected results are critical and fundamental knowledge on the genetics, biochemistry and physiology of domestication, agronomic, disease resistance, and stress tolerance traits in sugar beet, including development and validation of molecular markers linked to these traits. Release of enhanced germplasm combining existing and novel genes in new genetic combinations to industry is also expected. Research is expected to reduce crop and sugar losses by providing high-yielding, pest- and disease-resistant breeding lines showing superior stand emergence and persistence; generate biological and molecular tools and simplified phenotyping methods for germplasm evaluation; and annotated gene indices to reveal agronomically-relevant genetic variation and capacity to accumulate useful compounds (e.g., betalains, saponins, squalene, nutraceuticals, et al.).